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Lovell v. Griffin

Citation. 303 U.S. 444, 58 S. Ct. 666, 82 L. Ed. 949, 1938 U.S. 297.
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Brief Fact Summary.

A Griffin, Georgia, law required anyone wishing to distribute literature within city to first obtain permission for doing so. The Appellant, Alma Lovell (Appellant), distributed a religious pamphlet in Griffin without first obtaining a permit and therefore was convicted.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Liberty of the press is a right that permits one to publish materials without obtaining a license.


A City ordinance of Griffin, Georgia, provided that distributing literature of any kind within the city limits of Griffin, without first permission from the City Manager, shall be deemed a nuisance and punishable as an offense. The Appellant distributed in Griffin, without permission, a pamphlet setting forth the gospel of the “Kingdom of Jehovah” and was therefore convicted.


Did the Griffin ordinance requiring permission to distribute literature violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?


Yes. The lower court is reversed.
Chief Justice Charles Hughes (J. Hughes) stated the ordinance prohibits the distribution of materials of any kind, at any time, at any place, in any manner, without a permit from the City. The prohibitions of the ordinance are not limited to ways, which might be regarded as disruptive to the public order, or obscene. Thus, we think that the ordinance is invalid on its face. The right of freedom of the press was directed against the power of the licensor.


This case is really about limiting the discretion of government officials. The statute left it to the judgment of the City Manager, without guidance, to determine what literature would be permissible. It is this type of unguided discretion the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) finds to be repugnant to the Constitution. It is notable that there was not even a discussion about whether the City Manager had actually abused his discretion. The ordinance was deemed invalid on its face.

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